Year 1 Science

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Stories about Scientists: Joseph Banks

joseph banks

Joseph Banks was born in 1743. He was a particular type of scientist known as a 'botanist,' one who studies plants. His love of plants began at school and he always dreamed of travelling the world in search of new and different types of plants that no one had ever seen before. Banks was particularly interested in plants that could be used for practical purposes. Did you know that plants are not only used as food but can also be used in medicines and to make clothes?

It was not very easy to travel around in those days, however. Transport was very limited and it took a very long time to get anywhere—there were no aeroplanes or even any cars! Most people never left the town in which they were born.

But, after he finished studies at Oxford University, the opportunity arose for Banks to travel with one of the most famous explorers of the day, Captain James Cook. So in 1766, they set off in a great sailing ship, not knowing if they were ever to return. The three-year journey had already taken the adventurers to Madeira, Rio de Janeiro and New Zealand, where many new and exciting plants had been collected before the ship even reached the yet unexplored land of Australia.

Banks collected an enormous number of plants on the way. He discovered many new types. In New Zealand he saw that the local people used a particular type of plant called ‘flax’ to make their clothes, so he brought some back to England and it is now found in public parks and some people’s gardens. Why don’t you have a look in the park to see if you can find some? You can see what a flax plant looks like in the picture below.


In Australia, Banks collected over 1,000 different types of plants, during what must have been 70 thrilling days, with new discoveries being made at every turn. Much of what he found had never been heard of before.

On his return to England, Banks became president of the Royal Society, which is a group of the world's most important and famous scientists and is the oldest scientific academy still in existence. So this was indeed a very great honour. By this time, Banks was held in such high regard that he even advised the King of England on which plants would be best for the new 'Kew Gardens' the King was making for the public. You can still visit Kew Gardens in London today and see different types of plants from all over the world.

This activity is adapted from pages 272 - 273 of What Your Year 1 Child Needs to Know, which can be purchased here.